It’s not quite basketball season, but that didn’t stop N.C. State men’s basketball coach Kevin Keatts from making an appearance on Wednesday.
Keatts was the keynote speaker at the first Raleigh Sports Club meeting of the year, noting the importance of being involved with the nonprofit’s mission.
“This group, in particular, the things that they do for our high school (students) leading into college and the support they give is just huge for our community. And, also huge to N.C. State,” Keatts said.
The platform allows Keatts to connect with residents, notably kids and young adults, as well. He wants to be an example of success and someone who achieved it by doing things the right way. Keatts encouraged other coaches and leaders to expand their impact through similar programs.
“I think every young person needs role models. I think our responsibility as coaches is not just to be coaches,” Keatts said. “We’re looked at as father figures. We’re looked at as older brothers, at times, and we’re looked at as mentors. For me to get involved with any young individual, any young person who’s trying to be successful, I think that’s important for me.”
Beyond his statements about the organization, Keatts touched on a variety of topics with the attendees. Here are some of the big takeaways from his speech and Q&A period.
Don’t panic at transfers
Keatts spent 12 years as the prep coach at Hargrave Military Academy in Chatham, Virginia. He only had players for one year at a time, meaning he recruited 13 new student-athletes each year.
That also means he doesn’t stress about the new rules or the movement within the sport.
“I know people when they see somebody leave a program, I know most coaches get a little panicked, upset about it. I really don’t,” Keatts said. “I’m used to teaching every year, and that’s part of what we do as coaches. Some coaches don’t want to teach every year. I don’t mind bringing eight, nine, 10 guys into the program every year.”
He estimates that most programs lose four or five players to the portal each year. It’s easy to panic, but Keatts reminded everyone that the transfer system can be used positively.
That doesn’t mean it’s easy, Keatts said, but it’s also not the end of the world. It’s possible to bring in high-quality players, and fans can expect to see some of them this winter.
Junior Mohamed Diarra joins the team after stints at Garden City Community College and Missouri. Graduate student Michael O’Connell comes from Stanford. Another grad transfer, DJ Horne, returns home to Raleigh after spending the last two seasons at Arizona State.
Keatts also encouraged fans to think about the rosters differently. Gone are the days of signing a freshman and putting in four years of development, leading to them being a fan favorite as a senior or graduate student. It’s now about learning to embrace the current team and players as they are at present.
“I’m telling you guys, get out of that mode,” he said. “I don’t know that there are going to be many guys now, especially in the ACC, that start as a freshman and end up graduating from the same school.”
‘NIL is here to stay’
The seventh-year head coach admitted he believes in the new name, image and likeness rules. Keatts said scholarships are valuable, but they don’t necessarily cover the rising costs of living.
Some people cheated the system before NIL was passed, but he said this helps even the playing field for everyone. It’s only fair.
Plus, this provides fans approved ways to directly support student-athletes, even if it’s not through direct donation.
“If you can positively impact your team through that, you should,” Keatts said. Then, he playfully encouraged the Wake Forest, North Carolina and Duke fans to give to the State collectives.
The upcoming Wolfpack season
N.C. State has put together four 20-win seasons under Keatts. The program has finished above .500 in five seasons of his six previous seasons. He would like to continue that in the upcoming year.
The team features eight new faces, though, so it’s focused on building chemistry. Keatts said that’s the biggest challenge at the moment, though the program has done it before.
In terms of top returners, guard Casey Morsell returned to State for his final year of eligibility. He started every game last season and 11.8 points and 4.4 rebounds per game. Keatts said the fifth-year player is working toward an all-conference nod this time around.
Meanwhile, forward D.J. Burns is “trying to make Dancing with the Stars,” his coach said in reference to his fitness efforts.
“Two great kids – young men, I should say – that are working really hard,” Keatts said. “We expect a lot of leadership from those two guys.”